TWENTY-FOUR years after coming close to defaulting John McEnroe from a clash with arch-rival Jimmy Connors on a Craiglockhart grass court, retired Penicuik tennis umpire John Frame is now preparing to exchange greetings yet again with the original “super-brat”.
Multiple Grand Slam winner McEnroe, famous for his outbursts towards officials with such barbs as “you cannot be serious”, is returning to the Capital in June to take part in the Brodies Champions of Tennis event at Raeburn Place and headlines an entry list of illustrious former players such as Goran Ivanisevic, Tim Henman and Carlos Moya. Frame will be the tournament referee and his role allows him to pass pleasantries with the American he crossed swords with several times from the chair.
Recounting his exchanges with McEnroe, Frame told the Evening News: “I suspect in his prime, Mac was partly driven to his outbursts by a genuine sense of injustice. Maybe, too, it was part of an attempt to get his adrenalin going and gamesmanship might have been in his tennis DNA as well.
“I’ve got to think, though, that the antics of people like John McEnroe and also Ilie Nastase forced the tennis authorities of the mid-to-late 1980s to make umpiring more professional.
“Until then, the task was undertaken as a part-time hobby. When things changed, I got to do the job full-time and see a bit of the world as well. For that, John McEnroe has to be thanked because I have no doubt there were some genuine injustices that he railed against. Having said that, I umpired McEnroe two or three times after the Craiglockhart tournament, including at a US Open, without incident and, for the record, if he had to be disqualified from the Scottish Championship final he won back in 1989, the referee would have had to have stepped in.”
In fact, Frame, 57, a former history teacher, who also spent seven years working in the commercial department at Hearts, went on to umpire three Wimbledon men’s singles finals as well the women’s singles in 1990, when Martina Navratilova defeated Zina Garrison for a record-equalling ninth crown.
One of those men’s finals involved another visitor to the Capital this summer – big serving Croat Ivanisevic – and again there was controversy. “The 1992 [Wimbledon] final in which Ivanisevic lost in five sets to Andre Agassi was the best I did, no question,” he recalls. “On several occasions I was ready to call a point to Ivanisevic when Agassi, somehow hit a winning return. With matches at Wimbledon, you would be amazed at how many television viewers sitting at home phone the All England Club with a perceived complaint or affront. One of these came during the ’92 final when a caller alleged Ivanisevic was swearing in his own language at a line judge and the sound was audible on television.
“Normally such messages are forwarded to the chair umpire very discreetly, but on this occasion the assistant referee came out on to centre court and handed me a piece of paper.
“Obviously everybody, including the players, became aware something was going on, but when I quietly challenged Ivanisevic without wanting to disrupt the final and told him to ‘be aware’, he told me: ‘I am a Croat – it is probably a Serb wanting to cause trouble’.
“Goran also once insulted me by calling me ‘English’ and I had to put him right by explaining that would be like me calling him a Serbian! If you can’t accept that things are said in the heat of the moment and aren’t meant to be personal, then you shouldn’t be umpiring.”
Another highlight for Frame involved McEnroe. “For the 1984 Wimbledon men’s final I was net-chord judge and saw McEnroe beat Jimmy Connors 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 with a virtually flawless performance,” he said.
That was the last of McEnroe’s three Wimbledon singles titles, although he remained highly competitive for almost a decade. “People have noted that after McEnroe came to Craiglockhart in 1989, he never won a Wimbledon singles title again. They forget that in 1992, aged 33, he got to the semi- final, losing to Agassi.”
Had Mac won through, he’d have again found Frame in the chair and perhaps reminded him of a chide when being docked a game at Craiglockhart. “Mac told me ‘Okay, okay, you’ve got yourself on television’ in a reference to the fact the final with Connors was being broadcast live. Actually, if he had only known, it was my employer at the time who wanted to be on the telly. Just as the players were entering the court and the cameras were running, Wallace Mercer, chairman of Hearts, came down from the stand to shake my hand as I was sitting on the chair!”